Writer: Moira Buffini
Director: Kate McGregor
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Guernsey 1943 two and a half years into the German occupation and the locals have learned how to get along with the occupiers. Jeanne Becquet (Belinda Lang) is no exception to this, having been forced to move from a far grander residence into somewhere much smaller, she is making the best of things, trading a little on the black market and befriending the local German Major in order to keep things quiet for her family. All this despite living somewhere with an outside toilet!
With a new Major in town, Becquet is determined to ensure that the same state of affairs continues so spends some time charming him and brings him back to the house. Thinking that he speaks little English, an impression he plays along with, she insults Major Von Pfunz in several different ways being rude about his looks, his dress, his language, and even making fun of his name. Although it’s a quite common conceit to have a character pretend not to understand, Paul McGann as Von Pfunz does such a good job of playing up to it that the reveal still raises plenty of laughs.
Lang is marvellous as the rich lady forced into reduced circumstances, still full of indignant pride and a desire to protect her family, she is also willing to stoop to almost anything to keep her loved ones safe. As Von Pfunz, McGann does not put a jack booted foot wrong. The Germanic accented English is beautifully observed and never falters, skilfully teasing out sympathy for his character before crushing it as if under his heel, this is a great piece of acting. Robin Morrissey gives a convincing performance as the amnesiac Gabriel of the title, slipping masterfully from German and back to English adding to the air of mystery that surrounds him. Venice Van Someren as Estelle is a bundle of anger, resentment, energy and idealism and alongside Sarah Schoenbeck as the more measured yet still at times hot-headed Lily, and Jules Melvin as the stoic Lake they all act as foils for the whims of Jeanne.
Writer Moira Buffini has created four very disparate female characters here, all thrown together in the confusion of war time. It is the exploration of their relationships with each other and with the two men who appear in their lives that gives this work its drive and its individuality.
With plenty of twists, a good few laughs, and plenty of serious points to be made in among the tension, Kate McGregor’s direction keeps everything well-paced even through the slightly melodramatic episode in act two. This is a work that demands your attention from beginning to end.
Runs until 20 May 2017 | Image: Robin Savage